Saturday, April 13, 2013

Twelve Nights of the Wonnedanz

Every now and again, I come across short references that help to fill in some gaps in the understanding of our traditional practices.

One such gap is the time between Walpurgisnacht and the arrival of the Reifries (Frost Giants) thirteen days later. I think we finally have an answer.

On our current calendar, Walpurgisnacht falls on the night of April 30. However, since Urglaawe days begin at sundown, that night is actually 1. Wonnet (May 1) on the Urglaawe calendar. Deitsch tradition is that the Witches' Dances (Urglaawe: "die Wonnedanz," which translates to the "the dances of joy") take place at a variety of locations across the Deitscherei. Primary among these sites is Hexenkopf, which is located in Williams Township in Northampton County, but there are other sites as well.

In Germany, similar traditions relate to the Brocken, also known as Blocksberg, in the Harz Mountains. While I cannot speak to the exact meaning of the traditions at the Brocken, the impetus for the celebration in Deitsch culture is the return of Holle to the Hatzholz (also known as Mannheim, Midgard, or the physical realm). Hexenkopf is said to be Her home in this land. Her return brings order to the land and begins the growing season.

Tradition also holds that the Frost Giants become aware of Holle's return and attempt to destroy the order by freezing the land. Different Braucherei guilds have variations of this story, but the most cohesive version states that the first Frost Giant, Dreizehdax, arrives on the night of May 12 into May 13, which is actually 13. Wonnet on the Urglaawe calendar. Dreizehdax's efforts are thwarted by Dunner, and the Frost Giant is forced to retreat.

On the next night (May 13 into May 14), another Frost Giant, Vatzehvedder, makes his attempt. On that night, Dunner provides instruction to all of the Butzemenner (activated scarecrows) across the countryside in how to stop the Frost Giant. Vatzehvedder is also forced to retreat. On the third night (May 14 into May 15), Fuffzehfux makes his attempt and is beaten back by the combined efforts of the Butzemenner. After the pass of Fuffzehfux, it is considered safe to plant all crops outdoors.

I have often wondered about a few things regarding the variations of this story. For starters, there are so many locations where Witches' Dances and Wonnedanz were said to take place. Also, I wondered about the gap between the celebration of 1. Wonnet and the battle with Dreizehdax on 13. Wonnet.

Both situations can be explained by a small reference on p. 1619 of Volume IV of Grimm's Teutonic Mythology: "The Witches' Excursion takes place on the first night in May"... "They ride up Blocksberg on the first of May, and in 12 days must dance the snow away; then Spring begins."

This implies that the Wonnedanz is a multiple night occasion, perhaps symbolically beginning in the lowlands and working its way up the hills into the mountains. In our case, it would begin in places like Hexefeld near Riemeschteddel in the lowlands, up through Hexebaerrick in Berks County, and ending at Hexenkopf.

Although many Urglaawer have already been observing the Wonnedanz for several days after Walpurgisnacht, the reference in Teutonic Mythology provides some insight as to the likely cause of the delay between the restoration of order to the land and the Frost Giants' efforts to undo Holle's work. Henceforth, Distelfink Sippschaft will recognize the Wonnedanz will be a twelve-night celebration in a manner similar to the Yuulzeit.

Macht's immer besser!

Editor's note: The term "Wonnetdanz" has also been used in the past, which implied the "dance of the month of joy." However, the term "Wonnedanz" has emerged as the more popular of the two.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Til, Elbedritsch, and April Fool

I am seeing many Heathens linking April Fool's Day to Loki, and, indeed, there are some grounds to make such a connection. However, Loki is not the only trickster figure to appear in Teutonic mythology. Deitsch lore carries the stories of two other trickster characters, Til Eileschpiggel and the Elbedritsch.

Til Eileschpiggel is well known in Continental German lore as Til Eulenspiegel. Although the origins are uncertain, historians have tried to establish connections between this trickster and historical individuals. General consensus is that the stories appeared around the year 1300, but the roots very likely run deeper than that. His name translates to "owl mirror," which perhaps reflects the reversal of traditional wisdom that Til Eileschpiggel represents. 

Til is either Lokian in nature, a complete buffoon, or a truth-teller, depending on the context of the tales. He was famous in Deitsch folklore for predicting the exact opposite of what would happen, and, with a semi-divine nature, people would follow his predictions and trouble would follow.

Elbedritsch is an altogether different being. "Elbe" is a prefix that may refer either to the Elves or the Dwarves. In fact, his name is known in no less than fifteen variants across the Deitscherei, with the meaning being roughly "Elf twitch," "Elf cricket," "Elf tic," and sundry similar meanings. In actuality, there is no evidence to indicate that there is only one Elbedritsch. It is possible that Elbedritsche make up an entire race of wights. While the "Elwedritsche" is certainly known as a mythic creature in the Palatinate, I am not sure that some of the lore from Braucherei survives in the Palatinate consciousness.

The Elbedritsch is most commonly seen in the game of snipe hunting, when some pranksters manage to convince a person of lesser wit to go out on a cold night with a bag to hunt for this mythic creature. However, the prank belies some aspects of this being that have almost slipped out of the folk consciousness.

In time-cord journeywork, the Elbedritsch can serve as a trickster guide. He can mislead the journeyer in the middle of the work and can confound the healer's attempts to aid his clients. To what end does he partake of these actions? The primary purpose seems to be his own amusement, but, in a manner similar to Wudan's Yuletide riddles, the Elbedritsch also tests the mettle of those who encounter him. As such, should one be able to conduct fair business with the Elbedritsch, he can become a most faithful ally in a particular journey.


Til Eileschpiggel and the Dwarves

Eileschpiggel had made a nuisance of himself to the Dwarves so much that they decided that he must be dealt with, so they made plans to drown him. 

They made a casket and placed him inside it, and then they started to trek towards the sea. On their way, they came to a tavern, and they went inside to revel in their victory, leaving the casket outside. 

Along came a herder with a large drove of cattle. When Til heard the approaching hoofbeats, he began to call out, "No! I won't do it! I can't do it!"

The herder stopped and listened to the calls, finally answering, "What is it that you cannot and will not do?"

"They want me to marry the king's daughter, and I won't do it. They are taking me to the king to force me to marry her against my will. I won't do it!"

"Let me take your place," said the herdsman greedily, "I'll marry the king's daughter!"

The herdsman took Til's place in the casket and Til took the cattle towards his own home. 

When the Dwarves came out of the tavern, they took the casket to the sea and sank it. They then headed home joyously.

As they neared the gates of their home, the Dwarves were astonished to see Til alive, and even more bewildered to see him driving a huge herd of cattle towards his home. 

Til said, "Down on the bottom of the sea are many such cattle. These I drove from the bottom and up onto the shore, and I brought them home."

All of the Dwarves, eager to get cattle, ran to the sea and jumped in, heading for the bottom. Not one of them resurfaced.